Constipation is today one of the most common gastrointestinal conditions and if not appropriately addressed, deteriorates significantly the quality of life. But what is defined as constipation and how can we deal with it naturally?

Definition and types of constipation

   Constipation is defined as the abnormal bowel movements, resulting in going with a difficulty and less frequently to the toilet, having dry stools, or straining when you defecate.

   The frequency of defecation may vary considerably form person to person. As normal bowel movements is defined from 3 times a day up to 3 times a week. Constipation is categorized into two main categories, chronic and acute one.

Causes of constipation

   The most common causes of constipation are lifestyle and diet. Diet low in fibers (soluble and insoluble), dehydration, lack of exercise and even a delay in going to toilet, are the most common factors that alter bowel function and motility. Often, anxiety and travels may also affect functionality of the intestine, causing constipation, but their effect is temporary.

   In addition, there are also certain conditions that can cause constipation, like pregnancy, irritable bowel syndrome, various neurological conditions, depression, bowel cancer and certain drugs.

Treatment of constipation

   Prevention is the best treatment. However, there are various dietary and lifestyle changes that can help and alleviate symptoms of constipation.

Diet

   The first change is to increase the intake of dietary fibers, soluble and insoluble, by increasing the consumption of fruits, vegetables, oat, dried fruits, cereals and whole grains. For better result, it is advisable to consume also abundant water throughout the day.

   According to the official recommendations, daily intake of fibers should be 25 to 35 grams, a goal which is difficult to achieve. In case of overconsumption of fibers, there are undesirable effects like flatulence, gases and colics.  You may consider a supplement of fibers, if it difficult for you to consume the appropriate amount for veggies and fruits.

Lifestyle changes

   Intense exercise seems to contribute to the treatment of constipation, by increasing bowel movements. On the contrary, sedentary life may have adverse effects on bowel motility, as intestine becomes lazy.

Food supplements

Fibers and probiotics

  • Psyllium Husk. Psyllium is a dietary fiber that helps increase the volume of stools. It comes from a plant named Plantago and helps both in the management of diarrhea and constipation. When psyllium comes in contact with water, creates a gelatinous mass that facilitates the passage of stools from the gastrointestinal tract.
  • Glycomannan. Glycomannan is a soluble plant fiber derived from a plant named Konjac. As a fiber, glucomannan absorbs large amounts of water in its molecule, increasing intestinal motility and stool volume, facilitating defecation.
  • Probiotics. Probiotics are friendly bacteria of the intestine that can help fight constipation. The combination of probiotics, Lactobacillus, Bifidobacteria and Sacchromyces boulardi, along with prebiotics such as inulin, galacto-and fructo-oligosaccharides, helps to treat moderate and severe constipation.

Bulk-forming laxatives

  • Flaxseed. Contains soluble fibers and is available either as a seed or as crushed seeds . Flaxseed oil does not have the laxative effects of the seed itself. It can be aded to food, water or juice.
  • Other food that act as bulk-forming laxatives are oat, bran, trigonella or fenugreek and whole grain barley.

Osmotic laxatives

   Osmotic laxatives absorb large amounts of water in their molecule from the surrounding tissues. This property facilitates defecation, softens stool mass and increases intestinal motility.

Macrogol. Macrogol is a substance that improves bowel motility and contributes to the treatment of chronic and acute constipation. Because it is not metabolized by the intestinal flora, it does not have the unpleasant consequences of common laxatives, such as flatulence and increased feeling of discomfort. The benefit of macrogol is that it can be used long term and its intake is safe even for breastfeeding women.

Polyethylene glycol (Peg). Peg is used in solutions along with electrolytes and acts as a laxative. It causes diarrhea, as it absorbs large amounts of water from the surrounding tissues. This cause increase of the peristalsis of the intestine while also softens faeces. It can be used for a short time.

Lactulose. Lactulose is a molecule the structure of which resembles that of carbohydrates. It is used to treat chronic constipation, but its action is relatively slower than other laxatives.

Glycerin. It helps to treat constipation occasionally. It acts osmotically, by absorbing water and softening faeces. It works as an excellent stool softener and helps in bowel emptying. It is available in rectal suppositories.

Stimulant laxatives (herbs)

   Herbs help in the treatment of sever constipation, but their action lasts only for the time they are taken. They stimulate defecation as they irritate colon wall. However, it is worth noting that human body gets used to the action of stimulant laxatives and becomes lazy, so intestinal mobility and motility depends on their use. Despite that effect, stimulant laxatives help significantly in relieving and treating severe constipation, but they should be used occasionally and in moderation. Increased use can cause intestinal pain, dehydration, and electrolyte disturbances.

Aloe Vera. Aloe vera with anthraquinone is a substance that has strong laxative properties. It belongs to the same family of plants as Cascara and senna and helps in treating constipation. Overconsumption can cause intestinal pain.

Senna. It is one of the most widely used herbs for the treatment of constipation. It causes contractions of colon walls, thus facilitates emptying of the intestine. Its use is for a short time.

Cascara sagrada. A herb that increases the frequency of defecation by improving bowel motility. Overdose can cause diarrhea.

   In Vita4you you can find a wide variety of nutritional supplements, foods and suppositories to treat constipation.